Some 30 years ago, I invited good friend Eric Starkman to grab a beer and a burger at Pub 1881 on Woodward Avenue in Berkley, just north of 11 Mile Road.
We worked together at The Detroit News, and I had been raving about the muffaletta burger, which included an olive spread topping.
Starkman was the pickiest eater I knew. I figured he’d rave about the burger. But after two bites, he looked at me with a dour expression and blurted, “This isn’t very good.”
At that point, I grabbed his burger and finished eating it (I've never been shy eating from other people's plates), and told him I would never recommend another place to him again. After all, I said, if it wasn’t “Starkman approved,” why bother.
For decades, I encouraged him to have a website or a book with Starkman Approved restaurants. I assured him it would carry more weight than Zagat.
Now, some 30 years later, Starkman, who lives in LA after running a successful public relations firm in New York for 25 years, has finally launched the “Starkman Approved” site that carries the tagline: “Life as a Perfectionist in an Imperfect World. (It can be awfully frustrating)."
Besides food, Starkman weighs in on such things as gyms, airlines, politics and pet supply stores.
Starkman essentially serves as a consumer advocate and critic, and subjectively speaking, a good one at that.
I first met Starkman when he started at The News. Toronto-born and raised, he had worked for papers in Toronto and Montreal. One Friday night we were sitting with a group of co-workers, having a beer at the Golden Galleon bar behind the News building. During the conversation, I asked: "Are you Jewish?"
He got his back up and said: "Yeah, you got a problem with that?" I responded,"Hey, take it easy, I'm Jewish." I've kidded him about that exchange ever since.
In a column on his new site, he explains where he’s coming from (super picky):
“I vant you should bring me HOT tea and I vant you should make it snappy!”
The barked command to a geriatric nurse is the last memory I have of my grandfather, Abraham, while visiting him in what was then known as Toronto’s “Old Folks Home” shortly before he died at 91. My Polish immigrant forebear didn’t age well, and he was quite ornery in his final years. (Okay, I’ll be honest, he was that way the entire time I knew him).
“That’s going to be you one day,” said my mother, who was a Starkman by marriage. “It gets worse with every male generation.”
I don’t speak a Yiddish-accented English, but I do have some characteristics my therapist sister, Janie, agrees are genetically male-based. I’m a coffee drinker, and as the entire West L.A. Peet’s coffee staff knows, I like my coffee super-hot – and I’m not shy about letting them know when their burners are a tad off. My father, Morris, would only order soup in restaurants if he received multiple assurances it would arrive “piping hot.” My uncle Max, who lived in the celebrity enclave of Brentwood and worked in the heart of Beverly Hills, dismissed most L.A. restaurants as overpriced “coffee shops.” Only a handful of places passed muster with him.
He also mentions in the column about going to the Pub 1881 and notes: "BTW: Lengel’s burger place went out of business)."
Starkman’s site is a national one, but one of his reviews includes where to get the best martini for your buck, and he gives a big shout-out to J. Alexander's in West Bloomfield.
J. Alexander’s uses seven-ounce martini glasses and mine was filled a tad over three quarters. But an additional ounce or so was poured into a small carafe. Get this: the bartender placed the carafe into a glass of ice water to keep the surplus Tito’s cold. Starkman Approved applauds this commitment to perfection!
The cost for this time-intensive, flawlessly prepared martini with premium Tito’s vodka? $13! J. Alexander’s even has a macho name for the drink: “Duke Martini.” I challenge anyone to find a better martini deal in America.
J. Alexander’s is known for its wood-fired cuisine, and all the food servers paraded about looked delicious. My one-half rotisserie chicken was plump and moist. The bar crowd was genuine Michigan friendly, as opposed to phony baloney L.A. engagement. I had a nice conversation with two aides to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who come regularly for the cocktails but curiously prefer ordering their food to go.
You may not agree with everything Starkman writes, but he’s not likely to steer you to a bad restaurant.
P.S. Starkman was in town recently, and I broke my 30 year vow and recommended a restaurant for lunch: The Town Tavern on 4th Street in Royal Oak. To my shock, he ordered grilled salmon and said it was worthy of being "Starkman Approved." I'm still in a little shock.